My adventures serving in the Peace Corps
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!
Today is my parents' (34th?) wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, mom and dad! They are going to Iridescence for dinner tonight, the restaurant on top of Motor City Casino that Cam took me to for my goodbye dinner. It was sooo delicious, I'm jealous!
So since I last updated, I have returned from the med unit in Cotonou, yay! I ended up having to stay there almost an extra 24 hours because the lab was running behind that day. I KNEW that it was a UTI, but since the lab results were taking so long they had me wait around and do some other exams, just for good measure. The lab results, of course, showed that it was a UTI, so I'm on meds now and it is more or less gone. I felt bad having to stick around the med unit for so long: there were people there who were a lot sicker than I was, and many volunteers were COSing (Completion Of Service), which requires a very thorough medical exam the ensure that you are going back to the States healthy, so the office was overcrowded and everyone was busy and grumpy! Oh well, I'm better now, and I once again got to sleep in air conditioning, watch movies, and eat lunch at a FABULOUS Indian restaurant :)
Teaching this week went well; I was still with the sixième, the youngest grade that I will be teaching and beginning English students. They had a test this week, which unfortunately most of them failed miserably. They seem to understand things during class, but forget them rather quickly. The test had a short reading comprehension followed by a few simple questions, prepositions such as in/on/under/between, and the demonstratives this/that/these/those. There was also a word scramble where kids had to rearrange simple phrases such as “Good afternoon, class. How are you?” and “I'm very well, thank you. Sit down.” We would get answers such as “You down well I'm afternoon, good. Very you. Thank?” It was a bit discouraging, but I think they'll get it eventually. I'm sure some of my beginning French tests must have looked a bit like that :)
Yesterday was interesting. We had French class in the morning, and once we got there we all decided we were going on strike (a VERY common thing for teachers to do here in Benin- it is not unheard of for teachers to strike for nearly a fifth of the school year) because we were not up to having a fairly pointless 2-hour lesson on a Saturday morning, followed by more activities that would take up the rest of the day. Our Monday-Friday is extraordinarily busy, and having French class at 8am on a Saturday morning (when nearly everyone in our group is at the advanced level) is the LAST thing we want to do, and it is not productive since we are all so tired and grumpy. Our strike ended after about 10 minutes, but it was good while it lasted! We then went to visit an old woman on the outskirts of the city who practices traditional/voodoo medicine. Through a translator, she told us that she can cure almost all ailments (with the exception of tuberculosis, leprosy, and HIV/AIDS) using a combination of plants and offerings to the fetish in her living room. The supposed climax of the visit was at the end when she invited us in to see her fetish, which ended up basically being a ball of cloth wearing a necklace and some feathers in the middle of a trash heap in the corner. It supposedly is able to tell what kind of sickness someone has.
After that visit yesterday, the TEFL volunteers had an Iron Chef competition instead of a regular cooking session like we usually have! It was a ton of fun. We split up into 3 teams of 5 people each (although since we have 14 people, my team only had 4 people. That was good- too many chefs spoil the soup!) I was a team captain. Each team was given a pile of basic ingredients, and there was a communal pile that the 3 teams had to fight to get ingredients from. They unveiled the secret ingredient at the last second, and it was fresh coconuts. Each group had to prepare a main course and a dessert, each featuring coconut.
My group was awesome! For the main course, we made the most DELICIOUS spicy curry peanut coconut milk stew. We sautéed onion, ginger, and garlic in oil, then added potatoes, carrots, and eggplant. For the broth we added water, plenty of coconut milk, about 1.5 cups of peanut butter and flour to thicken. We finished by adding wagasi cheese for our protein (our group was the vegetarian of the three), and plenty of fresh coconut. For spicing we added TONS of curry, a bit of clove, salt, and some chili powder for heat. It was SO good! Since presentation was part of the evaluation, we served it in hollowed-out coconut shells, garnished with fresh avocado and an eggplant cutout of Benin! I will definitely be making this stew again!
For dessert we toasted oats in vanilla sugar and butter, then fried bananas and pineapples in butter and laid them on top of the oats. We then toasted fresh coconut and put plenty of that on top. For our presentation, we made a pineapple cut out of Africa and laid it on top :) We had to be very creative, because we literally only had a chopping knife, 2 frying pans, and a swiss army knife for our utensils. For instance, we used a carrot to stir our stew! We ended up getting second place out of the three teams (the team that won baked a custard cake with banana coconut frosting!). We were happy with ourselves, though, and got some awesome prizes: I got 2 forks and a can opener! (When you are in the Peace Corps, this is a WONDERFUL prize, haha) I posted a picture of the judging taking place.
Nothing else too earth shattering is going on around here. I leave for my village three weeks from today, which is both thrilling and a bit scary. I am looking forward to training being over, though. This week I saw a lizard that was only an inch long (picture), as well as a lizard stick his tongue out and catch a huge cockroach about a foot in front of my face- never a dull or creature-free moment here :) I spent quite a bit of money this week on a good fan and a refrigerator for my house in Lobogo, which I think will end up being a wise investment. I also really embarrassed myself: when riding my bike home the other night, a man on a moped came up alongside me and started asking how I was and flirting with me. This is very, very common here, so I didn't even bother to look his way. He wouldn't leave me alone, so I started telling him to go away, leave me alone, I'm tired of this, etc. When he STILL wouldn't leave me alone, I finally turned and looked at him, ready to start yelling... and realized it was my host papa's brother. Oops. I felt really bad, and I apologized. Finally, I got an awesome package this week from my cousins (which they put together at Dan Camp, a cousins-only hangout time that I missed this year), containing letter from each of them, some hand sanitizer, my favorite gum, ramen noodles, and a piglet temporary tattoo (awesome). The letters were really sweet and made me tear up! I will share the really sweet one written by my little cousin Austin:
I'm so glad you're serving other people with a great attitude for so long in a different country. Being away from family must be so hard, but that's what these letters are supposed to be for. I love you and I'll see you sometime.
Packages/letters seem to have no pattern in terms of how long they take to get here. I got the package from my cousins 10 days after they sent it- it was a padded envelope, but I got a different padded envelope three weeks after it was sent. My parents sent packages 4 weeks ago that I still have not gotten (although I have a hunch that they are at the post office, Peace Corps just hasn't picked them up yet). So, don't get frustrated by the inconsistency of the postal system! I will get things eventually :) It does seem to help, though, if you use a padded envelope instead of a box. It will get here more quickly, be less tempting to thieves, and I don't have to pay expensive Beninese tax on it!
Last bit of information: starting tomorrow (Monday August 18), I will have a new phone number. I mentioned in a previous post that I would be getting a new one because my current service does not get coverage in my village. You will dial everything else EXACTLY the same (i. e. whatever code you use on keepcalling.com), plus the country code is the same (229), making my number (229) 97 67 51 28. So, everything is the same, just the core 8 digits has changed. This number should work with keepcallingcom, and may even work with Skype, I'm not sure. If you have a spare moment, I would love to hear from you! I haven't gotten many phone calls yet, but I will needs them soon, especially during my first three months at post when I am not allowed to see any of the other volunteers! I hope everyone at home is doing well! To all of you getting ready to start MMB band week- good luck! I love and miss you all!